Natural Remedy for Head Lice
A natural remedy containing the oils of anise (Pimpinella anisum) and ylang ylang (Cananga odorata) may be effective in clearing infestations of head lice, according to a recent study in the Israel Medical Association Journal (2002;4:790–3).
Head-louse infestation, or pediculosis, is a common problem worldwide, especially among school children. The National Pediculosis Association estimates that 10 to 12 million children in the United States are infested with head lice every year. An itchy scalp may be the only symptom of pediculosis, but allergic reactions to the lice and bacterial infections brought on by excessive scratching can also occur. Eradication is particularly difficult due to the easy spread of infestation from person to person, leading to epidemics in some schools and communities.
Common therapies for pediculosis include lotions and shampoos made from malathion, pyrethrins, permethrins, lindane, and other insecticides. As well as causing minor rashes and skin irritations in some people, some of these insecticides are known to be toxic to the nervous system and the immune system. Repeated use of these preparations increases their toxicity. Furthermore, head lice can quickly develop resistance to these substances and become more difficult to control in regions where they are frequently used, leading to multiple applications for many children. Other effective treatments for pediculosis are constantly sought for this reason.
In this study, a natural spray containing anise, ylang ylang, and coconut oils was compared with a conventional spray containing permethrin and malathion for effectiveness in treating pediculosis. The participants were 119 Israeli school children with head lice. These children were randomly assigned to treatment with either the natural spray or the conventional spray. The natural treatment was applied for fifteen minutes on days 1, 6, and 11 of the trial, and the conventional treatment was applied for ten minutes on days 1 and 11. The treatments were found to be equally effective, with complete eradication occurring in 92% of the children in each group. The only side effect noted was an itchy scalp immediately following treatment in one child receiving the natural spray and one child receiving the conventional spray.
The fragrant substances in the oils of herbs such as anise and ylang ylang are known as essential oils. Essential oils are generally antibacterial, antifungal, and insecticidal, and have a long history of use for these effects. Studies have demonstrated the insecticidal effects of various essential oils against some agricultural pests and other insects, but few have looked at their effects on head lice. One other study examined the effectiveness of the essential oil of an African plant, Lippia multiflora, against head and body lice (scabies) and found it to be faster in action and more effective than the conventional treatment. The promising results from these recent studies could lead to more widespread use of essential oil preparations for pediculosis.
The herbal preparation used in this study is marketed in Israel under the brand name Chick-Chack; in the United States it is available as a cosmetic shampoo called Hair Clear 1-2-3 (distributed by Quantum, Inc.).
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, Vermont, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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